This post was originally posted on Isha’s Verdict and is a part of the “Rescue Mission” series.
Last month, I waded a year deeper into my forties. I am not quite sure what to make of aging physically—it seems slow and steady but then you wake up after a night of minimal sleep and low and behold, you look like you have aged 10 years overnight! On the flip side, aging mentally is proving to be an enjoyable experience that only seems to get better with every passing year.
Age has brought about a deeper admiration for the beauty and brilliance of human ability and innovations. I have a greater appreciation for history, including my own, and the need to preserve “beautiful things” that have been acquired over time and serve as symbolic markers of my life.
And those very thoughts linger behind the idea of this post you’re reading. Let me just take this moment to delve into the details of “Rescue Missions” and help you revisit the concept, as I have told in one of my earlier pieces:
My mother would often take some of her older clothes on trips to India and return with new outfits that were different permutations of an older outfit or two. As a teenager, I dubbed these her “Rescue Missions,” where she would salvage elements of an older outfit by pairing it with something new. I must admit I thought it was a waste of time and would tease her about these “projects.” However, as I grew older I realized that Indian clothes are so beautiful (and often so expensive) they cannot be left to languish in a suitcase simply because the style may have gone out of fashion. The gorgeous handiwork that makes Indian wear so beautiful rarely changes; it’s the cut and style that fluctuates and then the outfit is relegated to the back of the closet and forgotten about. During my time in India, I decided I was going to embark on some of these “Rescue Missions” myself!
This crepe sari was a gift from my mother-in-law when I got married and is over 15 years old. The sari was plain blue crepe with no border or embellishments except for the column of beautiful Kashmiri embroidery on the pallu (long trailing end of the sari). The Kashmiri embroidery is truly a work of art and I would admire it every time I saw this sari in my ‘sari suitcase’ (as I always say—you can never have too much money or closet space and sadly I don’t have enough of either). Despite my admiration of the handiwork, the sari with its plain blue blouse left me uninspired every time I contemplated wearing it.
Then one day, while living in India, I decided the time had come to perform a “Rescue Mission” on it. The sari and I went to meet a lady tailor recommended by a friend and after much deliberation, she convinced me the garb needed a border and a new blouse to increase its “wearability prospects.” I wasn’t sure I fully bought into her vision but I am so glad I went with it because I think the dual colored border and the self-embroidered blouse surpassed my expectations. I think the “Rescue Mission” was a success and brought this dull sari to life.
This piece is a rather unusual blue and I love the color combinations the designer used. The handiwork on it is exquisite and there is a certain nostalgia associated with it as it was a wedding present. I hope you enjoy this renewed version of this sari and are inspired to rework some of your treasured pieces!
Isha Sodhi is the 40-plus blogger behind the personal style and fashion blog, Isha’s Verdict. Her unique blog posts intertwine her personal life experiences with her love for all things fashion. She combines the love of writing with her passion for style, and ‘lookbooks’ both western and Indian clothes on a regular basis. A global citizen who has lived in Los Angeles, Mumbai, and London, Isha has a truly international appreciation of fashion and style.
Like many 90s kids, I was obsessed with Disney and the beauty of its animation. At four years old, I saw my first move in theaters: The Lion King. I spent the next year watching the movie everyday and singing along to “Hakuna Matata.” Disney was a way to relate to my peers and bridge the gap between my two identities.I remember being especially fond of Jasmine and Pocahontas. Their brown skin and black long hair matched mine. When I wasn’t watching Disney movies with my sisters, we watched Bollywood movies of the Golden Era. As the years passed, I prioritized balancing my passion for Disney with the intersections of my identities.
2022 was the first time Diwali merchandise became available in large retail stores. My town’s library even had a “Diwali” section in the Children’s section. The world is finally transforming and Diwali is becoming “mainstream.” After years of advocacy and cultural awareness, we are finally witnessing the representation of our culture, traditions and holidays. Upon hearing of JASHN Productions’ first-ever Diwali Dance Fest taking place in Walt Disney World, I immediately began planning. My passion for Disney had grown from movies to theme park adventures. Diwali, the festival of lights combined with Disney World magic was bound to be spectacular. And, oh boy (Mickey Mouse voice), did JASHN surpass all expectations.
The first event, held in Walt Disney World’s Disney Springs, was the first Diwali parade. Dancers of the many dance studios performed in 20 minute synchronized dances. Hearing Diwali announced over the PA system had me near tears. The vibration of the dhol beats within the Bollywood rhythms had the shoppers engaged. The sea of dancers adorning the vibrant colors of Diwali fit in perfectly with the Florida sun.
The real dream was seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse on stage with “Diwali” spread across. The Diwali Dance Fest included over 400 youth dancers from across the United States. These dancers, from 17 different dance schools, specializing in a variety of different forms of Indian and Indo-fusion dance, performed in Animal Kingdom’s Finding Nemo Theatre. Each dance led the audience to different regions of India; the music ranged from classical and folk to Bollywood and hip hop.The hosts Nisha Mathur and Sway Bhatia represented the joining of both worlds. Mathur is known for her SonyTV show, “Keys to Kismat” and Bhatia is the voice of character, Karishma on the very first Disney children’s show Mira the Royal Detective. International singer and performer Raghav, ended the show with his hit, Angel Eyes as a select group of dancers performed beside him.
Hearing the Indian music I had grown up with, brought me endless joy to finally witness such a level of representation, especially in a place so special to me. Experiencing a Diwali celebration in the most magical place on Earth with all generations was one of the best parts.
An after-party for performers and families, took place following the showcase in The Lion King theater. I was dancing and singing to my favorite Bollywood hits after enjoying this Disney Spectacular. Disney has always been my happy place; Walt Disney World will forever be the place where my greatest dreams came true. From enjoying a day at Animal Kingdom, in Indian attire, with Minnie Mouse ears to dancing along to the songs that filled my home. I have experienced a level of representation I never even knew possible. I have finally seen the gap bridged between my two identities. Never have I been more proud to be an Indian-American.
Passion is something many claim to have, but few truly possess. Whether it’s hobbies, professions or romances, it’s the secret ingredient we all crave but is quite difficult to come by. But on meeting Chef Devan Rajkumar — aka Chef Dev — it takes just a few moments to understand true passion. For the Indo Guyanese chef from Toronto, passion has always been food and its power to connect, nourish, excite and represent.
Whatever the outlet, Rajkumar feeds his mission to bean ambassador for modern, West and East Indian cuisine. I recently sat down with him to talk about this and the experience of bringing Indo Caribbean flavors to South Asia and beyond.
Feeding a passion for food
“The sights, the sounds, the aromatics. The excitement of the kitchen has just always appealed to me,” he began. “Food moves me in a certain way. I want to nurture and nourish. I’ve just always wanted to do for others.”
As he sat back in a ‘Guyana vs. the world’ tank top, Rajkumar’s energy was palpable.
“I’ve always lived and breathed food, all day, all night. Like I’m talking about food right now. I’m constantly talking about food.”
To Rajkumar, food is education — one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways to learn, teach and explore the world — and he credits his older brother Jai for inspiring this mindset. Jai was the first to introduce him to different cuisines, teach him to be curious about the world and show him how to challenge the norms of a “typical brown kid.”
Despite this encouragement, however, a culinary career wasn’t Rajkumar’s first instinct. The son of a businessman, he initially jumped around universities and career paths. He also struggled with substance abuse and grief after Jai’s passing. Through all the challenges, food remained a constant, and the sense of community it created was a powerful draw.
“At a very young age, I recognized how food made me feel if I was in a bad mood and how it made others feel,” he shared.
He’s always looked forward to sitting around a table with friends and family, enjoying a nice meal, and how everybody could share their stories or just forget their troubles.
“Food is a very powerful vehicle for transporting someone.”
In 2009, Rajkumar finally followed his passion and joined a culinary school. He realized he had a knack for creating this experience for others.
“I realized I had the power and the gift to nourish and nurture someone else in this way,” and it became irresistible.
A cook with no boundaries, Rajkumar didn’t want to limit the number of people he reached to just those in Canada.
For many, success in the culinary world is having a thriving restaurant, but after spending six months opening one with The Food Dudes in 2015, Rajkumar realized this route wasn’t for him.
“I wanted more culture,” he explained. “I wanted to learn and not so much get my ass kicked, but to be a sponge. I knew I needed to travel to broaden my horizons.”
So he did. Rajkumar spent months cooking in India, London, Peru and Dubai. He shared his experiences on social media and people back home took note.
“When I returned to Toronto,” he continued, “that trip had established me as a cook who had no boundaries. As someone who wasn’t afraid to explore and get out of their comfort zone.”
And get out of his comfort zone he did.
“From catering to a pop-up abroad to filming ‘Cityline’ and speaking engagements, every day is different,” he explained. “I’ve had my bouts with imposter syndrome, but ultimately, I’ve gotten to make more of an impact than just opening a restaurant.”
That impact has especially been prominent in South Asia.
Rajkumar embraces not only his Caribbean culture, but his South Asian roots as well.
The temple he grew up in was a blend of Guyanese and East Indians, so he knew foods from a typical Guyanese household like alu curry and saijan but also East Indian favorites like dhokla and malai kofta.
“Ultimately, we came from India,” he declared. “I embrace the culture and I am very comfortable leaning back and forth into it. It’s in me. It’s who I am.”
In fact, Rajkumar noted his career became much more defined and successful when he really began to identify as not just a chef, but as an Indo Guyanese Canadian chef.
Hearing this, it was no surprise that Guyana, India and Pakistan stand out as some of his favorite destinations.
“Guyana is hugely impactful for me,” he shared, having visited his parents’ homeland frequently. “As soon as that door opens [at the airport], you smell Guyana. You smell the sugarcane burning from rum factories. I have all these wonderful sights, sounds, smells and flavors from those trips.”
His sentiments for India are similar.
“Incredible India is incredible India,” he referred to the country’s tourism slogan. “Every 100-200 kilometers, the menus can change completely. I can live in India for the rest of my life and never see it all.”
Rajkumar’s first trip in 2020 was only nine days long, but its impact stayed with him.
He couldn’t have been more excited to return for a month, earlier this year, and host what his friends there dubbed the “Mad Love Pop-Up,” after one of his signature sayings.
He filled the menu for the 18-day event with global dishes like ceviche and scotch eggs but infused them with West and East Indian flavors like masala, jerk and cassareep — a rich extract of the bitter cassava native to Guyana. Before he left, he even prepared Guyana’s national dish of pepper pot, a hearty meat stew, for the staff meal.
“My whole thought process was ‘let me give these people — my family there — an experience they’ve never had before,” he detailed. “Any time I give someone pepper pot or cassareep, they’re just so shocked. It’s so unique.”
Rajkumar is always excited to share the flavors and culture of Guyana with new people, but with his roots in South Asia, bringing them to Pakistan was that much more profound.
“In India, maybe it’s different, but in Lahore, most people don’t know about Guyana or where it is. That’s another reason why I did this. That’s why I do all the things I do. That’s why I’m wearing this tank top — to raise awareness about my culture and how beautiful it is,” he said.
Time in South Asia has also helped Rajkumar gain a deeper appreciation for the origins of many Indo Caribbean dishes and reinforced his love for them.
“Guyanese cuisine doesn’t just have Indian influence, but so many dishes in some way, shape, or form come from there. Like when I’m eating sada roti, I can tie it back to which type of flatbread it came from in India. I feel like a better-equipped chef at the end of the day. I’m more connected to my Guyanese roots and to the culture overall.”
Rajkumar wants to foster a deeper understanding and relationship between both heritages. He wants his food to build connections, not disparity.
Bringing the world back home
Rajkumar has visited over 20 countries, but Pakistan remains one place he’ll cherish his entire life. He is grateful not only for the opportunities he’s had there, but also for the chance to offer a fresh, alternative view of the country from what is often shown by the media.
“When people saw me posting content from Lahore, they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is Pakistan?’ This is not what we expected. This is not what we thought we’d see.’ They were shocked at how beautiful, kind, and welcoming everyone was.”
Reactions like these are Rajkumar’s ultimate goal.
A cookbook is due next year. He has aspirations of launching merchandise and cookware, traveling to South East Asia, and continuing his pop-ups, but ultimately, he concludes,
“I just want to stand for something. I want to continue to learn, remain humble, represent my Western and Eastern cultures and spread mad love. I want to be an ambassador to that world and be someone who’s dedicated to his craft, bettering himself and those around him.”
“I just want to continue to grow as a person,” he added with sincerity as he touched on his sobriety and what it’s taught him about achieving your goals.
“That might sound cliche, but it’s new to me. I’ve spent the last two years learning about myself and being vulnerable about how I feel, my healing journey and what I’m going through. If I excel and continue to invest time and discipline in that arena, everything else around me will flourish. I believe that goes for anyone.”
Rajkumar is going far literally and figuratively, but no matter where he lands, you can be sure he’ll bring something back for his supporters, whether it be a new view of the world or a concoction like a ceviche pani puri on one of his menus.
“That’s my travels to India, Pakistan and Peru all in one bite!” he exclaimed.
Chef Dev’s journey has not always been an easy one, but it’s a powerful example of the success one can taste with hard work, embracing authenticity and following true passion.
“A weight’s been lifted off my shoulder,” said Shania Bhopa, a graduate student at McMaster University, who took control of the narrative and timeline of her life by freezing her eggs at the age of 25. As a P.h.D candidate in the Global Health Program, her goal is to destigmatize egg freezing among as many young women as possible. Although she was nervous to post the first Tiktok about freezing her eggs, Bhopa knew that her goal was to raise awareness about female fertility using her background in health research at McMaster, and her own experiences. That video went viral with 1.6 million views.
“Knowing the likelihood, especially with my career goals, [that] I can have a happy, healthy baby potentially closer to 35, is very refreshing.”
In the South Asian community, reproductive health and family planning can be sensitive topics. Bhopa wanted to utilize her platform to challenge these traditional opinions about reproductive health. And it’s why Bhopa continues to shine a light on the importance of starting these conversations and destigmatizing egg freezing, primarily within the South Asian community.
So what is the purpose of egg freezing? According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, close to one-quarter of Canadians, aged 15 to 49, changed their fertility plans because of the pandemic.
Egg freezing — which helps to preserve fertility for a later stage in life — continues to serve as a way to give individuals leeway to live life intentionally, without conforming to societal pressures. This is an important consideration, as research shows that by age 35 the chances of conception decline to 66% and continue to decrease as individuals age. What egg freezing provides is a feeling of freedom and liberation for people with a uterus, so that their decisions are not influenced by when they should have children.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into understanding the stigmas that exist, the importance of having these conversations, and the insight gained as individuals like Bhopa take fertility into their own hands:
The journey through fertility
“My purpose of going through fertility treatments at 25 is to buy myself time, to get closer to my purpose in my professional life, so that hopefully one day I can be super intentional with my time as a mom when I’m ready.”
According to Dr. Togas Tulandi, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, medication is given to stimulate the ovaries so they produce eggs. The eggs are then removed for freezing and storage. Needless to say, the treatment can be costly. The initial egg freezing procedures typically range from $5,000 to $10,000, while the ongoing storage expenses amount to approximately $300 to $500 per year. Despite the financial commitment, freezing eggs is a valuable investment.
Bhopa documented her 11-day egg freezing journey through a TikTok series on social media. She shared the ups and downs throughout the two-week duration, addressing public queries and comments including those on how this was accepted, given her South Asian background.
Societal expectations, cultural norms, and traditional beliefs often contribute to the apprehension and lack of open dialogue regarding fertility. Breaking through these barriers is essential to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health care and reproductive journeys.
“My biggest reasons for doing this are both reproductive health and family planning. These are sensitive topics, especially in the South Asian community,” said Bhopa.
They are particularly “sensitive” because in South Asian households, conversations around women’s health, periods, fertility, and related topics, seldom occur openly. Bhopa’s story serves as an example of the power of embracing one’s fertility journey and the liberation it can bring.
Given that Bhopa is a woman in her mid-20s, she sees egg freezing as a way to help her future self. She is calling it a birthday gift for her 25th year. Most of all, she expresses,
“It’s like, you graduate…and then you’re supposed to get married and have kids. But I think it’s important to take control of our own narrative; we don’t need to feel this pressure to have kids when we’re not ready.”
“Why at the young age of 25? What was your parent’s reaction? How was this accepted?” These were just some of the questions that circulated Bhopa’s social media page as she brought awareness to fertility planning.
In order to understand the beneficial impacts that freezing eggs can have on the course of one’s life, we need to first create spaces for people within the South Asian community, and beyond, to feel as though they can prompt these conversations without the resulting stigmas.
All South Asian women should be able to make informed decisions surrounding their fertility journey; whether that is through understanding the options that exist, the associated costs, the procedure, the support that’s available or anything else. To achieve this, we must break down the discomfort within our households surrounding fertility conversations by challenging ourselves to make historically uncomfortable conversations comfortable.